Today was a day for much rejoicing as the Pirates locked up their superstar center fielder, Andrew McCutchen, to an extension that would allow him to stay in Pittsburgh through 2018. It was both a great and necessary move by the club. McCutchen surely looks like he will be around for a while and will spend the prime of his career in black and gold. But there is one other player on the roster who is even more vital to the team’s future success. That guy is Pedro Alvarez.
When Alvarez was drafted by the Pirates as the 2nd overall pick in the 2008 draft, he was hyped up as the best power bat scouts had seen in quite some time. He was the number one draft prospect and was projected to move through the Pirates system quickly and become the our power hitter the club so desperately needed.
When Alvarez arrived in the Majors in June of 2010, he looked just like Pirates fans had envisioned. In 95 games, he smashed 16 home runs and a wOBA of .343. He posted an OPS of .932 in the season’s final month and left us all confident that we had found our power hitter. Sure, he struck out 31% of the time. But when he hit the ball, he hit it hard and he hit it far.
Then, the disaster that was the 2011 season happened. Alvarez started off slow and never heated up. After an injury, he was sent to AAA-Indianapolis, where he still didn’t put up the numbers he had in the past. When he was later recalled, he continually was overmatched by big league pitching and ended the season with a forgetful .191/.272/.289 line in 262 plate appearances.
This past off-season, Alvarez opted not to go to winter ball and instead focussed on getting back in shape. Multiple reports show that he lost some weight, gained some muscle, and looks poised for a bounce back campaign. However, through 2 spring training games, Alvarez is 0 for 5 with 3 strikeouts. It’s only 2 games, but they still haven’t gone much worse.
Andrew McCutchen can’t lead this team by himself. There is a decent core of players around him, but no one really who is capable of helping him carry the team. The only guy with the potential to do that right now is Alvarez. It doesn’t matter if McCutchen is around putting up .300/.400/.500 seasons if he doesn’t have anyone to compliment his game.
This season, ZIPS projects that Alvarez will hit .245/.323/.447 with 24 home runs. After seeing what we saw last season, I think we will surely all take that from Alvarez this year. However, that simply won’t be enough. No one else on this team is capable of hitting 40 home runs in a season, let alone 30 (apart from MAYBE ‘Cutch).
If Alvarez doesn’t become the player, or close to it, that we all hoped for when we drafted him, there’s a chance we will spend our next few seasons just marveling McCutchen’s skills as the club’s woes continue. But if Alvarez can blossom into the player that scouts thought he would become, we could be looking at a tandem that could wreak havoc on NL pitching for years to come.